Saturday, 27 February 2016

Bergson's Wind Tunnel

Wilbur: We’ve taken this flight thing as far as we can go. Let’s admit it; we’re stuck
Orville: I agree. We need some intellectual technology.
Wilbur: Send for that cerebretonic ectomorph, what’s his name.
Orville: You mean Bertie Russell.
Wilbur: Yeah, he’ll get us off the ground.

Dan Linford in
public letter to Bill Nye
is clearly fond of the usages of his apprenticeship which was in science. As I read his open letter I thought his views on scepticism might bring some rebuttals followed by clarifications. His intellectual technology kite will also not survive the rigours of the wind tunnel so to speak.

Bergson’s lecture on Philosophical Intuition from 1911 to the Philosophical Congress warns of philosophic hubris (from The Creative Mind)

One would find the same kind of relationship between a philosophical system and the whole body of scientific knowledge of the epoch in which the philosopher lived.
There is a certain conception of philosophy which requires that all the effort of the philosopher should be to embrace in one large synthesis the results of the particular sciences. Indeed, the philosopher, for a long time, was he who possessed universal knowledge; and today even, when the multiplicity of particular sciences, the diversity and complexity of methods, the enormous mass of facts collected make the accumulation of all human knowledge in a single mind impossible, the philosopher remains the man of universal knowledge, in this sense, that if he can no longer know everything, there is nothing that he should not have put himself in a position to learn. But does it necessarily follow, that his task is to take possession of existing science to bring it to increasing degrees of generality, and to proceed, from condensation to condensation, to what has been called the unification of knowledge? May I be pardoned if I consider it strange that this conception of philosophy is proposed to us in the name of science, out of respect for science: I know of no conception more offensive to science or more injurious to the scientist. Here, if you like, is a man who, over a long period of time, has followed a certain scientific method and laboriously gained his results, who says to us:
"Experience, with the help of reasoning, leads to this point; scientific knowledge begins here, it ends there; such are my conclusions"; and the philosopher would have the right to answer: "Very well, leave it to me, and I'll show you what I can do with it! The knowledge you bring me unfinished, I shall complete.

What you put before me in bits I shall put together. With the same materials, since it is understood that I shall keep to the facts, which you have observed, with the same kind of work, since I must restrict myself as you did to induction and deduction, I shall do more and better than you have done." Truly a very strange pretention! How could the profession of philosopher confer upon him who exercises it the power of advancing farther than science in the same direction as science? That certain scientists are more inclined than others to forge ahead and to generalize their results, more inclined also to turn back and to criticize their methods, that in this particular meaning of the word they should be dubbed philosophers, moreover that each science can and should have its own philosophy thus understood, I am the first to admit. But that particular philosophy is still science, and he who practises it is still a scientist. It is no longer a question, as it was a moment ago, of setting up philosophy as a synthesis of the positive sciences and of claiming, in virtue of the philosopher's mind alone, to raise oneself above science in the generalization of the same facts.
Such a conception of the role of the philosopher would be unfair to science. But how much more unfair to, philosophy! Is it not evident that if the scientist stops at a certain point along the road of generalization and synthesis it is because beyond that point objective experience and sure reasoning do not permit us to advance?

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams (pub. 2000)

Joy Williams is a fabulizer of the first degree of brilliance. Any character that occurs to her is given a universe of their own to be unworthy in. She does more in a few pages than others do in a whole book. As in life oddness is a common strategy, miasms of bafflement and bemusement give her creatures a reasonable amount of time to fabricate an alibi and find corroboration in a complex universe. Normally black isn’t funny but if you paint cerise over the black or lawn or shale over it then it becomes hilarious. The three 16 year old girls who run this novel, are they the Weird Sisters or the Fates or the Furies? There is pretty narcissist Annabell and her tippler father who talks to his undear undead departed, late but back, wife, Ginger. There are long conversations in which she urges him to various acts of folly all designed to bring them onto the same unpleasant bardo. Corvus the dark one whose parents died in Mexico has her special superpower of invincible gloom. Alice the eco-scold hunts cats with a deadly catapult.

Before I had read her in New American Stories she was unknown to me.
I am grateful for this deflection of light under my rock.
Alice reflects on the life she will have:
She was never going to seek gainful employment again, that was for certain. She'd remain outside the public sector. She'd be an anarchist, she'd travel with jaguars. She was going to train herself to be totally irrational. She'd fall in love with a totally inappropriate person. She'd really work on it, but abandon would be involved as well. She'd have different names, a.k.a. Snake, a.k.a. Snow—no, that was juvenile. She wanted to be extraordinary, to possess a savage glitter.

I could end up quoting it all but I refuse to be a Borgesian Menard. I stand aside.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Divine Hiddenness

I have been coming across the theme of divine hiddenness recently chiefly as an accusation against the goodness of God. My reaction in summary is ‘great, stay there, but what keeps you going?’. The sutra from the Tait.Up. that I quoted in the previous post
has a hint of the spiritual adventure of the seeker who receives an intimation of the unity of being. Without that renewal life loses its savour. The unbeliever also needs that spark even if he does not admit its source as a revelation of the unity of being. In the monistic view of the Upanishad this nature must break out no matter what your intellectual position is but the focus of the practice of the aspirant can lead to a full realisation of the inscrutable, unmanifest Absolute.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Upanishad,Bergson, Otto, Yeats

In the beginning all this was but the unmanifested (Brahman). From this that emerged the manifested. That Brahman created Itself by Itself. Therefore It is called the self-creator.
That which is known as the self-creator is verily the source of joy; for one becomes happy by coming in contact with that source of joy. Who, indeed, will inhale, and who will exhale, if this Bliss be not there in the supreme space (within the heart). This one, indeed, enlivens (people). For, whenever an aspirant gets fearlessly established in this unperceivable, bodiless, inexpressible, and unsupporting Brahman, he reaches the state of fearlessness. For, whenever the aspirant creates the slightest difference in it, he is smitten with fear. Neverthless, that very Brahman is a terror to the (so-called) learned man who lacks the unitive outlook.
(from Taititriya Upanisad II.vii.1)

This I think is the direction that Bergson is going in Two Sources. We have to move away from the instinctive basis of tribal morality towards the enthusiasm of the religious ground of fearless universal love. The instinctive arising out of the self-protection of the group gives way to personal joy. The rational won’t do that for us, nor will the irrational. I’m with Otto and the non-rational. When however the rational goes to work on the instinctive and begins to de-legitimise it nothing much is left to guide those without a religious sense. The healthy functioning of society is in danger.



Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. 
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
(written in 1919, from Michael Robartes and the Dancer)


Sunday, 21 February 2016

Bergson and the Index

Henri, how did you get yourself on the Catholic Index of forbidden books in 1914? It can’t have been for the nature of your works in themselves which up to that time were Time and Free Will, Matter and Memory and Creative Evolution. I have a feeling that it was easier to achieve that gold star of dangerous ideation if you were French Intellectual culture is taken very seriously there.* To be effective at subversion one would think that ease of understanding would be a necessary feature. If Bertrand Russell was baffled where was the problem? I think it arose due to the co-option of his thinking on intellect versus intuition and instinct by Syndicalists, Anarchists, Modernists, and Neo-Catholics.

John Alexander Gunn’s book Bergson and his Philosophy (1920) indicates one source of the revisor’s condemnation:

While social revolutionaries were endeavouring to make the most out of Bergson, many leaders of religious thought, particularly the more liberal-minded theologians of all creeds, e.g., the Modernists and Neo-Catholic Party in his own country, showed a keen interest in his writings, and many of them endeavoured to find encouragement and stimulus in his work. The Roman Catholic Church, however, which still believes that finality was reached in philosophy with the work of Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, and consequently makes that mediaeval philosophy her official, orthodox, and dogmatic view, took the step of banning Bergson's three books by placing them upon the Index (Decree of June 1, 1914).

Put together with Syndicalist and Anarchist thought, Bergson had cashed in a four way accumulator bet:
Both ethical and political thought to-day are deriving fresh stimulation from the revision of many formulae, the modification of many conceptions which the War has inevitably caused. At the same time the keen interest taken in studies like social psychology and political philosophy combines with a growing interest in movements such as Guild Socialism and Syndicalism. The current which in philosophy sets against intellectualism, in the political realm sets against the State. This political anti-intellectualism shows a definite tendency to belittle the State in comparison with economic or social groups. "If social psychology tends to base the State as it is, on other than intellectual grounds, Syndicalism is prone to expect that non-intellectual forces will suffice to achieve the State as it should be." [Footnote: Ernest Barker in his Political Thought in England from Herbert Spencer to the Present Day, p. 248.] Other tendencies of the same type are noticeable. For example, Mr. Bertrand Russell's work on The Principles of Social Reconstruction is based on the view that impulse is a larger factor in our social life than conscious purpose.
The Syndicalists have been citing the philosophy of Bergson in support of their views, and it is most interesting to see how skilfully at times sayings of Bergson are quoted by them as authoritative, as justification for their actions, in a spirit akin to that of the devout man who quotes scripture texts as a guide to conduct.

Note:From the 19th. century on
most of the writers on the Index were French. Amongst them are Gide, Flaubert, Dumas (both pere et fils) Sand, Balzac, Zola, Anatole France, Sartre, de Beauvoir.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Russell on Bergson

Writing in the Monist on Bergson
Bertrand Russell employs all his rhetorical skill to put his subject in the Continental box. It might even be considered early analytic scorning of the elegant nonsense put out by system builders or the instauration of the great divide. Obviously Bergson was not going to please the great rationalist.

Though Russell does not deal with The Two Sources in his piece there is a tangential reference to the bifurcation of instinct and intellect which is crucial to Bergson’s thinking on morality.
 But among animals, at a later stage, a new bifurcation appeared: instinct and intellect became more or less separated. They are never wholly without each other, but in the main intellect is the misfortune of man, while instinct is seen at its best in ants, bees, and Bergson.

Russell does not quite pardon Bergson for writing well:
In the above outline, I have in the main endeavored merely to state Bergson’s views, without giving the reasons adduced by him in favor of their truth. This is easier than it would be with most philosophers, since as a rule he does not give reasons for his opinions, but relies on their inherent attractiveness, and on the charm of an excellent style. Like the advertisers of Oxo, he relies upon picturesque and varied statement, and an apparent explanation of many obscure facts. Analogies and similes, especially form a very large part of the whole process by which he recommends his views to the reader. The number of similes for life to be found in his works exceeds the number in any poet known to me.
In the second part of his critique of Bergson’s philosophy he settles on specific issues which are substantive and fall within his own area of interest. Bergson has got a wrong notion of the genesis of our concept of number, he says, but it seems to me that Bergson is describing its acquisition by the non-mathematician. It may be that the specialist builds on this primitive foundation. In any case it is Bergson’s core thesis that the division of time into sequential units is drawn from the mathematization of space and though useful is not adequate to the metaphysical reality which is duration.

This second part of the discussion is interesting and perhaps if the reader went to it first they might get more out of the paper. The initial donnish persiflage may diminish the later acute examination of key concepts such as Duration, Images, and Memory. These are terms which have a special meaning in Bergson’s work and so examination from their conventional acceptation is perhaps missing the point. Certainly worth a read.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Historical Principles

I broke my Koboglo e-reader in a very cunning way. Stepping up from my seat and back from the desk my foot looped around the cord of the headphones which lassoed the reader in its cushioney pooch and pitched it to the floor. The wire connecting to the screen was broken by the impact and as I was quoted 60€ to fix it I thought it as well to get a new one. This time I went for a Kindle Paperwhite. I wasn’t aware that they had special offers on the screensaver by default, with a banner on the opening page. They only appear once you’ve registered which is further into the Amazon ecosystem than I like. Relentless eyeworms bore into your brain. Solution: Reset to pristine factory state, don’t register and get very pleasant screensavers of nibs, typeface, pen and ink. You lose the special offers which I have no use for anyway and cloud access and the free dictionary. The last is a loss which turned out to be a gain because I was able to find a 1913 version of Webster’s Dictionary which is on historical principles and out of copyright. An excellent dictionary which is true to Johnsonian individuality. This site will tell you how.
I dragged and dropped which worked for me.
He also has an essay on why you’re probably using the wrong dictionary which is witty and persuasive.
wrong dictionary
Yes I agree and can offer you a test. Look up catamite. In my Concise Oxford dictionary of ‘72 edited by the Fowlers H.W. & F.G. the definition is sodomite’s minion. In the Shorter Oxford Dicionary (S.O.D. ’87) the definitions is a boy kept for unnatural purposes. The Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (‘77) has a boy kept by a pederast. It seems to me that the first definition is tart, crisp and to the point, the second might be judgmental which is a fault and the third is imprecise. The Webster’s 1913 has the same definition as S.O.D. '87. Watch that space.

A good e-reader though once purged.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Larry Darrell Speaks

"One day I said to him: 'You, who are so liberal, who know the world, who've read so much, science, philosophy, literature—do you in your heart of hearts believe in reincarnation?'
"His whole face changed. It became the face of a visionary.
" 'My dear friend,' he said, 'if I didn't believe in it life would have no meaning for me.' "
"And do you believe in it, Larry?" I asked.
"That's a very difficult question to answer. I don't think it's possible for us Occidentals to believe in it as implicitly as these Orientals do. It's in their blood and bones. With us it can only be an opinion. I neither believe in it nor disbelieve in it."
(from The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham)

That latter paragraph has been my ‘rap’ for a while and whether I learned it from this source or not I don’t know. I would never approach a teacher with firewood saying 'I am tired of the endless transmigration’. Because I’m not and because the simple knowledge of continuity without a felt identity is an abstraction without living force. What is certain is the practice of the presence. ‘Everything shall perish save his face’ (Koran 28:88)

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Bergson and Tribal Loyalty

The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932) is a book that I have taken up in the past which failed to adhere then but somehow is doing so now. With work of this order of difficulty there has to be a feeling that it is speaking to us. He introduces the concept of two levels of moral engagement, the basic level of group behavioural constraints which are obligatory and virtually instinctual and advancing on from there to the involvement with an exemplar that embodies values that are satisfying and give us joy.

Who can help seeing that social cohesion is largely due to the necessity for a community to protect itself against others, and that it is primarily as against all other men that we love the men with whom we live? Such is the primitive instinct. It is still there, though fortunately hidden under the accretions of civilization; but even to-day we still love naturally and directly our parents and our fellow-countrymen, whereas love of mankind is indirect and acquired. We go straight to the former, to the latter we only come by roundabout ways; for it is only through God, in God, that religion bids man love mankind; and likewise it is through reason alone, that Reason in whose communion we are all partakers, that philosophers make us look at humanity in order to show us the pre-eminent dignity of the human being, the right of all to command respect. Neither in the one case nor the other do we come to humanity by degrees, through the stages of the family and the nation. We must, in a single bound, be carried far beyond it, and, without having made it our goal, reach it by outstripping it. Besides, whether we speak the language of religion or the language of philosophy, whether it be a question of love or respect, a different morality, another kind of obligation supervenes, above and beyond the social pressure.

He himself had moved towards Catholicism as the fulfillment, as he expressed it, of Judaism yet he was not baptized sensing the rise of antisemitism and thereby giving a witness to primal instinctual tribal loyalty. His queuing in bad weather to be registered as a Jew in 1941 was the direct cause of his death.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Mill on the Irish Question / Carlyle on the Negro Question

((cogged from Henry Farrell/Crooked Timber))
Millian Liberalism
But the Irish peasant: what of him? Is he a similar paragon of industry, providence, self-reliance, and the other virtues of that mythological creation, “a stout peasantry?” Listen to Mr. Foster—listen to the “Times Commissioner,” and he will tell you that the Irish peasant, while he has his sufficient meal of bad, watery potatoes, will not stir two steps from the door of his turf hut to gain either comfort or luxury at the cost of half an hour’s exertion; that when a boat is found for him by his own parish priest, and a thousand herrings may be caught in one day, neither the prize can tempt nor the priest persuade him to make use of the opportunity; or he perhaps goes once, and brings home a week’s subsistence; but, declaring it too much trouble ever to go again, loiters at home and asks a passing traveller for money. Such are said to be the people to whom the Times wishes the Legislature to declare, that they need not take any trouble to feed themselves, for it will make the landlords feed them. … Because the Irish are indolent, unenterprising, careless of the future, doing nothing for themselves, and demanding everything from other people; because, being freemen, they want the characteristic virtues of freemen, it is proposed to create a fit soil for the growth of those virtues by placing them in the position of slaves!

The entire population of the country are coming upon us to be fed. And we are called upon to decide instantaneously whether we will or will not undertake the office. There is no retreating, no putting off. The burden of Irish destitution is now to be borne by us. Ireland can no longer suffer alone. We must take our full share of the evil, or put an end to it. For a few weeks or months longer we have the choice which. Wait a year, and we may have it no longer. Wait a year, and the mind of the Irish population may be so thoroughly pauperised, that to be supported by other people may be the only mode of existence they will consent to. There may be a Jacquerie, or another ninety-eight, in defence of the rights of sturdy beggary. It may require a hundred thousand armed men to make the Irish people submit to the common destiny of working in order to live.

When it came to consider the Irish Question Mill was no more enlightened than Thomas Carlyle if you take the standard view of his Discourse on the Negro Question. I have reservations about the justice of that and note that his compassion increased as the suffering came closer to home.
cf: Discourse
Mill was exercised by the plight of the West Indian colonies
and the exploitation of ex-slaves. His retort that pumpkins are every bit as good as spices, a high value cash crop Carlyle recommended that the ex-slaves grow; would not have gone down well with the masters of the East India Company, his employers, for whom spice was a source of massive profit.

Zizek whose normal turgid ebullience I can leave seems to be mostly right here:
refugees and global capitalism

Wednesday, 3 February 2016


Calasso’s Ardor has had an antithetical effect which was stimulating. His remarks on the significance of Leviticus 17:17 particularly:
Elohim then proclaimed another innovation: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you, like the green herb : I have given you all this.” Only one proviso was attached: ”But you shall not eat flesh with its soul, which is the blood.”

For the subtle essence to pass to God in sacrifice the blood had to be foregone. This was the first covenant. I reflected that in the second covenant due to the sacrifice of The Lamb of God the whole substance could be retained, both body and blood. It also could be assimilated in the bread and wine of the sacrifice of the mass, not in a symbolic or metaphorical way but through a transubstantiation as Catholics believe. Others take it to be a flagrant and intransigent atavism, a ‘blasphemous fable’.

Certainly it is a powerful doctrine when by divine fiat there is alteration of commonplace bread and wine in a further development of the concept of Judaic sacrifice. Viewed anthropologically the latter has features in common with vedic practice. No strangling though, the blood must be let. Modern Hindu practice of animal sacrifice would pass and in the West the devotees of Psych sacrifice chickens and rabbits. Common ‘christian’ slaughter has left all elements of sacrifice behind, a desacralization surely.